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18 December 2010

Damage to Gulf's coral reefs 'is irreversible'

Vesela Todorova -

Coral reefs in the Arabian Gulf have deteriorated significantly in the past decade and some of the damage is irreversible, according to a prominent marine scientist.

"All the major indicators are down," Professor Charles Sheppard, from the University of Warwick in the UK, told a marine conservation forum in the capital.

Average fish density, which is 4,000kg a hectare in a healthy reef, is less than 1,000, he said.

Coral reefs sustain a quarter of marine species, despite covering a tiny portion of ocean territory. Shrimp, crab, lobster and many other commercially viable species of fish live on reefs. If reefs disappear, so, eventually, will fisheries.

Prof Sheppard has been studying Gulf corals for more than 20 years and is a reviewing member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the scientific body that informs the United Nations and world leaders.

One of the most striking examples of the severity of the reef damage that Prof Sheppard gave at the forum is Fasht al Adhm, a once-vibrant reef between Bahrain and Qatar.

When he first visited the reef in 1985, "the coral cover at that time averaged 50 per cent or more, which is healthy", he said.

"When we went back two years ago, the coral cover was virtually zero. The reef was covered in seaweed and slime and the corals were disintegrating.

"We went to other reefs around Bahrain and they were all the same," he said.

Prof Sheppard has recorded the damage to Gulf coral in a recent scientific paper, The Gulf: A Young Sea in Decline.


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